The original Crying Freeman was a manga that ran in Weekly Big Spirit Comics between 1986 and 1988. The plotline concerned a Japanese potter who was recruited and brainwashed as an assassin by a Chinese organisation, his love affair with the artist Emu Hino and battles with various criminal organisations. He earned the sobriquet Crying Freeman because of his idiosyncrasy of shedding a tear for each of his victims. The Crying Freeman manga became a cult work because of its stylised ultra-violence and often eroticised artwork. It was previously been adapted to the screen in five OVA anime, which appeared between 1988 and 1993 and closely followed the plotline of the original manga. There was a Hong Kong-made live-action film adaptation with Crying Freeman: Dragon from Russia (1990). (There was also the Hong Kong-made Crying Freeman: Killers Romance (1990), although this appears to simply be a gangster film and not related to the manga in any way).
This live-action Crying Freeman adaptation was produced by director Brian Yuzna, best known for films such as Society (1989), Bride of Re-Animator (1990), Return of the Living Dead III (1993) and The Dentist (1996), and directed by Frenchman Christophe Gans. Yuzna and Christophe Gans had previously collaborated and Gans had made his directorial debut on the Hotel of the Drowned segment of the H.P. Lovecraft anthology Necronomicon (1994). Crying Freeman was Christophe Ganss first feature-length film and he would subsequently go onto make films like Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), Silent Hill (2006) and Beauty and the Beast (2014), as well as to produce the ghost story Saint Ange (2004).
Having only seen Christophe Gans somewhat disappointing episode of Necronomicon prior to seeing Crying Freeman, one was considerably surprised by the things that he managed to do with the material here, turning out a film that dazzles with the flamboyant pyrotechnics of pure style. This begins even from the opening credits scene, which come overlaid against the wonderfully sensual image of the snake tattoo on a lithely muscled body coming to animated life. Christophe Gans has clearly borrowed from the book of stylistic tricks patented by John Woo. There is an amazing opening scene with Mark Dacascos pursuing two men through the woods and shooting each in slow motion, he tossing away his gun, which explodes behind him, and then putting out a hand to save a dumbfounded Julie Condra from falling off a cliff, saying his name and then having vanished by the time she turns around. There are other dazzling scenes, like the attack on Mako with cars going up in explosions and slow motion gun battles with masked assassins firing in mid-air; or images of Mark Dacascos waiting naked atop a doorframe for assassins to enter and throwing bottles of alcohol at people to ignite and incinerate them. Not to mention the incredible gun battles at the Hanaka headquarters and at the climax.
The films plot is certainly excessively complicated in the running around between the various factions. For the most part, Crying Freeman could almost be a silent film the title characters dialogue is stripped to next-to-nothing and the film exists almost entirely as a series of action set-pieces. Christophe Ganss directorial delivery is extraordinary he was one of the few Western directors to take on board the kinesis and self-conscious stylistic dazzle of Asian action cinema well before the Wachowski Brothers did.
The adaptation is a good deal more Westernised than the manga was. Christophe Gans lacks the melancholy and sense of ritual that was there on the comic-book page, while the element of eroticism in the strip has been thrown out altogether. Also, the characters have been cast with mostly Western actors, meaning that Emu Hino gets oddly renamed as Emu OHara. That said, the plot of the film follows the manga closely.